I had initially been excited to view Iron Man 2 after hearing a few positive reviews of it, including a glowing panegyric to the film by my own pastor. This piqued my curiosity, and so I picked up the DVD from my local library this weekend.
The film stars Robert Downey Jr. as he reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man from the first film. Gwenyth Paltrow shows up again as Stark's assistant, the absurdly named Pepper-Potts (despite rumors to the contrary, the film did not have any scene of Paltrow getting punched in the face). We also have supporting roles from Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, and boxer as the villain Ivan Vanko (Whiplash).
The plot is a little confusing, but basically Tony Stark is dying from the palladium reactor in his chest that keeps him alive. He has to find a replacement for the palladium that can keep him alive without poisoning him. In the meantime, his behavior becomes more erratic and self-destructive, although this is never explicitly tied to the palladium poisoning, leaving us unsure if Stark is very ill or just a pompous ass. There is more romantic and dramatic tension between Stark and his assistant Pepper, with a gratuitous and needless kiss thrown in at the end of the film. Then we also have unresolved issues between Stark and his dead father, the presence of vengeance-driven villain Ivan Vanko, underhanded competition from a rival weapons manufacturer, and attempts of the United States government to force Stark to turn over his suits to the U.S. Military. Oh, there is also another subplot about Stark and his friend Col. Rhodes having a falling out and then reconciling. If this isn't enough, we also have the attempts of the Avenger team, lead by Samuel L. Jackson as "Nick Fury", to recruit Stark for their team. Phew.
So, there is a downside right there. This film just has too many freaking subplots. Which one is the main plot? I really can't tell. They all have equal attention devoted to them, to the point that I can't really say what this movie is about.
But let's talk about the one good thing this film has going for it, and that is that here we see, for the first time, not a superhero who keeps his identity a closely guarded secret while struggling internally over how to deal with his super powers; rather, Stark's identity as Iron Man is public knowledge known the world over. Iron Man is a celebrity, and far from grappling with the burden of being a hero, Stark seems to thrive on it. In Iron Man 2 we get to see what it would be like if Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne came out in the open, revealed their identity and gloried in the publicity. Sure, it makes Stark come off as a bit of an ass, but it's also a refreshing reprieve from so many of these "secret identity" superhero films. I can't say this is an unqualified bonus for the film, but it is at least interesting.
That being said, Stark's behavior as a celebrity gets annoying really fast. From a moral point, the movie has several sexual references, a needless pun referring to masturbation thrown in, and Scarlett Johannson as eye-candy - there is a totally pointless scene of her changing her clothes in the back of a car where we get a glimpse of her leg and her upper body clothed in only a bra. Is this necessary/ When in superhero films do we ever see anybody changing their clothes into their costumes? It's cliche that we never see them changing...unless it is Scarlett Johansson. There are also a couple "GDs", which are always needless.
But let's talk about what is really stupid about this film - that is the incessant, pointless, irritating dialogues between Stark and Pepper. Have you ever watched one of those films where the main characters are constantly arguing with each other? That's Iron Man 2, except bumped up a notch. Pepper and Stark not only constantly argue, they quite annoyingly talk over each other in almost all of their dialogues. If people talking over each other in real life is irritating, what the heck made the director think this would be fun to watch in a film? Never was I as tempted to just shut this movie off as during the drawn out scenes of Pepper and Stark arguing with each other.
Also, the final solution to Stark's palladium poisoning is a deus ex machina that doesn't make any sense. After trying combinations of every possible element to replace the palladium, Stark finds the answer hidden cryptically in an old city blue print created by his father. Somehow, the center reactor of the City is actually a map to a "new element"; what element it is, we do not know because it is never named. Stark somehow figures this out and synthesizes the new element after about five minutes worth of work. This new element then fortunately replaces the poison palladium and saves Stark's life. How convenient! But how did his father find it? Why, if it was so powerful, did he encrypt it in a blue-print for decades and not tell anyone about it? What are its properties that allow it to provide the power of palladium but without the radioactive side effects? And how could Stark figure out how to synthesize it just from seeing a picture of it on a blue print? Oh well, who cares. It's just a plot-gap-filler to solve the poisoning problem.
Not to mention the cluster that is the Avenger's sub-plot. Nick Fury comes out of nowhere, with no explanation as to who the Avengers are, what project S.H.I.E.L.D. is or what connection any of this has to the whole film. I'm guessing this will be fleshed out in later installments (Samuel L. Jackson reputedly signed a contract to be featured in at least nine of these films - that's right, nine), but telling me that something will make sense in the future doesn't make it any more intelligible now. It is one thing to skillfully build up anticipation and mystery; it is another thing to just confuse the heck out of the audience. Iron Man 2 does the latter.
All this wouldn't be so bad if Robert Downey Jr.'s character was at least likable. But he's not. Stark constantly comes off as an egotistical, arrogant, lustful creep. You will say, "But that is what he is supposed to be." Maybe so, but it does not make him any more likable. Iron Man, despite throwing around some platitudes about "the people", ultimately fights only for himself, and this makes it hard to sympathize with him or identify with him. A selfish billionaire with unlimited superpowers who is surrounded by scantily clad women? This isn't something I can identify with, though maybe it caters to the "reality show' crowd who for some reason seem to love watching self-destructive rich people.
The final battle is brief and anti-climactic. Dialogue is stupid and confusing. Too many subplots. A soundtrack by AC/DC. This movie sucked. I give it one point five tiaras.